Hurricane Irene: the aftermath


Hurricane Irene was only a tropical storm by the time she reached Rhode Island. She was very noisy, however; she fairly howled around the windows for a couple of hours on Sunday. We tried to ignore her; we watched television a bit (we were lucky to keep our electricity; a lot of people in the area lost theirs), and then I read and napped for a couple of hours.



(I think disasters make me physically ill. I was queasy on the day of the earthquake a few days earlier; now, with Irene roaring and trumpeting around the house, I felt achy and tired. As a kid, I loved storms. Now I just wanted this to be over.)



By four o’clock or so the rain and wind had (mostly) stopped. Partner suggested a walk, and I was only too avid to get out of the house. The skies were cloudy but bright, and there was a fresh cool breeze blowing. Everything felt different. Masses of leaves had been torn down from the trees; small branches and twigs lay everywhere in the streets and on the sidewalks and lawns. We didn’t walk far before we found our first downed tree: a big sycamore. (Why do they have such shallow roots? Are they chumps, for god’s sake?)



Most of the damage was obvious, once we looked more closely: rotting branches, badly-pruned trees, isolated trees in unprotected areas. We did come across a small area on Blackstone Boulevard that might have experienced a microburst: two or three large trees torn out of the ground and a lot of downed branches in a very small area. I was sorry to see some of the big tulip poplars on the Boulevard had lost lots of their upper branches, and the wind had brought down whole handfuls of their graceful-looking flower buds. (Liriodendron tulipifera, the tulip poplar, is the most amazing tree: everything about it is remarkably beautiful, from its manner of growth to its flowers to its big mitten-shaped leaves. I hate seeing these trees damaged. But then, I have a weakness for beautiful things. I see a miserable little dogwood missing a couple of branches, and I sneer: Who cares?)



Lots of wires were down. We saw a cop driving lazily through the neighborhood; every so often he’d stop and take photos of a downed wire or an especially large downed branch or tree.



By this time everyone was out walking. This, of course, despite the fact that we’d been warned repeatedly by TV personalities not to go out walking, that there were still dangers everywhere, weakened branches waiting to fall on our heads, treetrunks waiting to collapse right on top of us . . .



Example: Partner’s sister, up in Massachusetts, was out walking the dog on the day of the storm. She was bathrooming it under her neighbor’s tree (get that?) when she heard the trunk creaking. Time to go, she thought. Half an hour later, safe at home, she heard a creak and a crash, and ran to the window to see that tree fall on top of the neighbor’s house and both of his cars.



Example: A Brown shuttle driver told me that he’d been driving past the small park on South Main Street at eight o’clock on the morning after the storm, and had seen only a few branches down. He made his forty-five minute loop, and came back around . . . And a huge tree had in the meantime split in half and fallen all the way across South Main, blocking almost the entire road. Get that? Sixteen hours after the storm was over.



But the weather that followed the storm was fresh and almost cool, and there was dew on the grass that next morning.



What hurricane?



The persistence of life




Back in the early 1990s, two apartments ago, I ordered a Pereskia aculeata from an exotic-plant catalog. The catalog picture showed lavish green leaves and big exotic-looking flowers. According to the listing, Pereskia was a primitive cactus, with normal-looking leaves, but with spines, and with the same water-hoarding habits as other members of the Cactaceae family. And then there were those big beautiful white flowers.



My order arrived in the mail. The Pereskia was –



A stick. With maybe three leaves on it.



I stuck it in a pot, with some fertilizer and lots of good wishes.



It lost one leaf, then two. It just sat there for a very long time – a couple of months, actually. I nearly threw it away several times.



Then it showed some activity.



That was twenty years ago, and much activity has occurred in the meantime. There are now potted descendants of that damned twig all over New England and the Northeast.



The original still lives here at home with me. It’s a weed! The catalog didn’t tell me that. It’s a nasty twining thorny nuisance in the Caribbean and elsewhere. I’ve never yet had it bloom, anywhere. It sprouts, and flourishes, and spins long ropelike spiny nooses that ruin the curtains and growl at me when I get too close. One in a while my original Pereskia leaps at me from the windowsill and tries to kill me with its spines. It did that just the other day, in fact.



But just look what it did it my office.



I brought a small inoffensive-looking shoot into the office, and I set it on my windowsill, and watered it weekly. It blinked at me shyly, and took one look at the nearby cord for the Venetian blinds, and it jumped.



Two years ago I noticed it was actually climbing the cord. Fine, I thought. That’s a fool’s errand. See how high you get. The ceilings in my office are ten or eleven feet high, or more.



To my utter disbelief, the vine made it all the way up the cord.



And now – as you can see in the photo above – it’s on my ceiling, making itself at home.



Some scientists believe that life doesn’t need an especially friendly climate to survive. All it needs is something to cling to.



Well, scientists: I think I have some data for you.



Life (at least in my neighborhood) does whatever it has to do to survive.



Life finds a way.



(Next question: is it going to work its way back down again?)



I am Yin


I was born in the year of the Fire Rooster, according to the Chinese calendar. I am supposed to be perverse, and loudmouthed, and angry, and constantly bragging.



I suppose I am all of these things. I think medication has helped me keep my brassier character traits to a bearable minimum.



But often I find myself portraying: the caretaker. The mother. The receiver. The encourager.



In short: I am Yin.



Not long ago, we had a kind of Cleaning Day in the office. I was actually in charge of it. This was intensely difficult for me, because I hoard everything. People come to me for everything: aspirin, shovels, Swiffers, signatures, official forms. I peacefully receive and store (or stack, or just sort of throw aside) things of all descriptions.



So I watched people throwing things away, and once in a while I’d dart in, unseen, shrouded in occult darkness, and snatch up the things they were throwing away.



Because you just never know when a cookie sheet, or a teddy bear, or a leatherette luggage tag, might be really useful.



Flickering through my head all day was a Simpsons line, spoken by Mr. Burns: “Smithers, once again you have been the soothing Yin to my furious Yang.”



Let me tell you something: the Yang of the world is furious indeed.



But I do my best to cool it.



And the most encouraging thing happened recently:



My student assistant Noah, a huge varsity football player, overheard me tell someone that I was Yin. He rose to his feet, and let me tell you, he is impressive when he stands up. And he said, not loudly, but firmly: “You listen to him! He’s Yin! And he’s my boss! So you better listen to what he says!”



And I said, peacefully and in a very Yin manner, to my colleague: “You see? I’m Yin. And I have a bodyguard. So huh.”



You see?



I am Yin, the gentle and receptive.



Do as I say, or  I will have Noah muss you up.



Sunday blog: Storm warning



Guess what Partner and I are doing today!  



Hiding under the kitchen table with our stuffed animals, of course, and eating tuna right out of the can, and waiting for the Big Storm to go away and leave us alone.



If you’d like to participate in the experience, just get under your own kitchen table, grab a stuffed animal, open some tuna, click on the following file, and close your eyes . . .


Wind-Mark_DiAngelo-1940285615.mp3 Listen on Posterous




And suddenly it’s autumn


Partner is sick and tired of hearing me declare that, in Rhode Island, on August 15 (or thereabouts), we change to autumn.



Except that it’s always true.



I mean: I see his point.  Here it is almost two weeks later, and we’re sitting here sweltering with the air conditioners on, waiting for a hurricane to pass over in the next 48 hours.



But the August 15 thing never fails. Never. There’s a slight drop in the temperature and humidity, and a few drops of dew on the grass in the morning. And I hear the crickets, at morning and dusk. And the light is altogether different, for god’s sake! Duskier. More autumnal.



It’s a month after the solstice, so of course there’s bound to be a change. The evenings are definitely darker. No more twilight until nine o’clock; it’s dark, or almost, by eight o’clock now.



None too soon for me, kiddos. I hate the humid unsettled New England summer, all stormclouds and warm fronts. I long for the cool calm sunny weather of September and (better yet) October, which are easily New England’s best months.



But so many New Englanders are summer-worshippers! They hate the thunderstorms and humidity as much as I do, but they love summer. Just because.



Well, I don’t. It’s a pain. I hate sweating through my shirt. I hate looking out the window and seeing a bruise-colored sky. Or brassy angry one-hundred-degree sunshine. Or waiting for another bloody Atlantic hurricane to maybe-or-maybe-not come ashore.



I long for the beautiful colorful New England autumn, and the calm passage into winter.



New England winter itself is a bitch.



But we can talk about that a few months from now, after I’ve fractured my spine by slipping on an icy sidewalk.





At a certain age we lose our self-consciousness about our bodies.  Just yesterday I was having a quiet conversation with the driver of our campus shuttle-bus as we were trundling between campus locations; I don’t know how we got on the subject, but for some reason he mentioned that he has a colonoscopy scheduled for next week.  “I think I’m gonna cancel it,” he said.  “Who cares?  I’m seventy-three. What’s the worst that could happen?”



I tsked.  “You never know what’s in there.”



He shrugged.  “Who cares what’s in there?”



All at once I realized that the girl sitting across the aisle from me – probably a medical student – was staring at both of us with complete incredulty.  



Just because two old men were having a casual conversation about having themselves probed!


I have had for the past few months a stubborn little inflamed patch on one of my fingernails. The doctor confirmed that it was – ew – fungus. “It usually goes away by itself,” he said. “And the medications don’t work all that well. And it doesn’t usually spread from finger to finger, so I wouldn’t worry about it.”



But it’s not terribly attractive.



I’d seen a number of ads on TV for various products, and thought I’d try one, so I went trooping off to CVS.



While there, I realized that lately I’ve been having, um, tummy trouble. The tummy-trouble aisle is quite extensive, and has just about everything you can think of: pills, gadgets, drops – um – other things . . .



I made my selections and took them up to the cheerful smiling girl at the cash register, who knows me by sight because I go there frequently.



And she looked down at my fungus medication, and my tummy-trouble apparatus, and –



I give her credit for professionalism: not once did she flinch. She bagged my items very quickly, however, as if she wanted them out of her sight, and me too.



But her smile never wavered.



She is a tough little cookie.



Thank goodness she didn’t have to call for a price check on anything,



Come on, Irene


Irene is a pretty name, don’t you think? I think I had a cousin Irene a long time ago. The name means “peace” in Greek.



So now there’s this super-fabulous hurricane zinging around in the Caribbean and Atlantic, also named Irene. It appears to have its little heart set on coming up north, to visit us Rhode Island folks.



Oh, goody.



Partner and I did not go grocery shopping last weekend, and it suddenly dawned on us that, if we waited much longer this week, the stores would be stampeded by panicky milk-bread-and-batteries customers, so we went last night. Partner struck up a conversation with the bagboy. “You must be expecting a lot more customers later in the week, as the hurricane gets closer,” he said.



Bagboy looked blank. “There’s supposed to be a hurricane?” he said. Bless his heart, Irene could probably barrel right through his living room, and Bagboy would probably not notice.



We have not had a good hurricane since Bob, twenty years ago this month. Bob put out the lights in much of Rhode Island for most of a week. Providence got a little flooding, but not too much. Before that, of course, there was the mighty Hurricane of 1938 (back before we gave them cunning little names like Basil and Withnail and Hermione), which flooded the city to a depth of six feet (there are still little brass markers on the buildings downtown, showing the depth of the water), and tore apart much of inland New England.



We don’t get ’em often, but we like to do ’em right.



Well, Partner and I have shopped, so we’re all set. I’ve got my liquor and my canned sardines packed in Louisiana hot sauce; Partner has his tuna fish and Italian wedding soup and pitted olives.



As long as we don’t lose our can opener, we’re all set for a lovely hurricane.




The Great Earthquake of 2011


I was in a meeting yesterday afternoon when the woman sitting next to me became very still. “My chair is shaking,” she said. “Do you feel anything?”



We all became still at that point. My knee was resting against the desk in front of me, and I could feel a faint unnatural tremble. Then someone else said, “Look at the plant!” We all turned, and the little potted palm sitting in the corner was trembling like – well, like a leaf.



Then it stopped. The first person hmphed. “That was an earthquake,” she said. “I really believe that was an earthquake.”



Indeed it was. We all spent the rest of the day regaling one another with where-were-you? stories. Also, since I love being the first with news of any kind, I kept saying to people, “So did you feel anything half an hour ago?” and was continually delighted when they said, “Nothing. Why?”



Seriously, as natural disasters go, this was right up there with a light dusting of snow or a half-inch of rainfall. One of my coworkers said her sister in Pittsburgh called her to say that her kitchen cabinets kept opening and closing eerily by themselves. Someone else said she heard the building windows snapping and popping, as if they wanted to bust free from their frames. In the last analysis, though, we all seem to have made it through the experience alive.



(My favorite earthquake memory is from when I was very small – maybe four years old – out in Washington state. My family and I were all sitting in the living room, and suddenly everything in the place began to bounce and leap around; I fell off the couch, landed on the floor, and just kept bouncing as the floor shook. I remember laughing with glee, as I thought it was great fun, until I realized that everyone else in the room was screaming and panicking.)



The best reaction yesterday came from Giovanni, the operator of a document-destruction truck, who came by my office around 2:30. He was short, dark, hair moussed into a faux-Mohawk, funny lively eyes, and kept shaking my hand at the drop of a hat. I was showing him around the building and asked him if he’d felt the earthquake. He became very serious. “No suh!” he said. “When? I love that stuff. I watch the History Channel all the time, you know? And this stuff is history. Was there any damage?”



“Some,” I said. “Not much.”



History,” he repeated solemnly.



History indeed. The earth moved, and we were all there, and we lived to tell the tale.



And tell it over, and over, and over again.



And isn’t that the best kind of history?



Fan fiction


I think one of the great by-creations of the Internet has been the proliferation of fan fiction. It allows fans to pay homage to their favorite movies and books and TV shows by creating new versions of them. Porn versions of “Mary Tyler Moore.” Pirate versions of “Twilight.” Gay versions of “Harry Potter.”



My goofy friend Apollonia, the #1 Twilight fan in the world, subsists on fan fiction. After all, once you’ve read all four Twilight novels, and while you’re waiting for the godlike Robert Pattinson to complete the movie cycle, what do you do? If you’re Apollonia, you read fan fiction. “There’s one,” she told me breathlessly, “where Edward has Bella trapped, and he just drains her a little bit at a time, and he’s in love with her, but she’s – “



I will not complete that sentence. Dis – gus – ting.



But I do understand.



I saw an entry on recently about Harry Potter. I’m not the biggest Potterite in the world, but I respect J. K. immensely; I own all 300 pounds of her work, mostly in hard cover.  She recently released a tease that seemed to indicate she was writing more wizard-related material, and then it turned out it was just some bits and pieces to be released on the Net.  



And the world pants for more.



Anyway: so we know that Hogwarts was founded by four wizards, right? A long time ago, right? And there was conflict between the four of them, right?



This would be an awesome movie, right?



The Tumblr people even cast it! Rachel Weisz as Helga Hufflepuff, and Michael Fassbender (the handsome somber young Magneto in the most recent X-Men movie) as Salazar Slytherin . . .



To quote Gene Wilder in “Young Frankenstein”:



“It! Could! Work!”



Are you listening, J. K.?





The Pacific Northwest, where I grew up, is motherland for slugs of all sizes. The commonest in my particular neighborhood were Ariolimax columbianus, which some people call “banana slugs”; they’re about the size of a small banana, they’re yellow/brown with dark spots, and they glisten in the sun. See the above photo if you’re not familiar with them.



They also turn into little mounds of foam if you pour salt on them.



We imported little brown slugs from my Grandma Boitano’s house one summer when she gave us some plants. These we called “Italian slugs,” because we called everything that Grandma gave us “Italian.” Italian slugs were a little more durable than their banana cousins, but salt did the trick on them too, eventually.



I am given to understand that, up in the wilds of British Columbia, our friend Ariolimax can grow up to foot long, and can engulf a small animal, given enough time, and given that the animal stays very very still. I’d like to see that.



My favorite slug story is that of my school friend Kate. She has a dim recollection of toddling through the garden with something clutched in her hand, and her mother yelling, “Spit it out! Spit it out!”



The thing in her hand was a banana slug.



No, I’m sorry: I meant to say half of a banana slug.



%d bloggers like this: